The Pop Tart Guy


Sunday, July 3rd. I woke at 5 a. m. to a beautiful crystalline morning. Brewed a pot of hot black coffee, fired up the computer, checked e-mails & FB messages then decided to hit the supermarket before the holiday rush. I didn't relish the thought of jostling hurried fellow Americans filling shopping carts with soda, brats and beer so I was out the door and in the neighborhood supermarket a few minutes after they opened.

There is no greater endorsement of the American way of life than the supermarket. There I was, roaming the aisles along a few other early birds, filling my cart with fresh fruits and veggies, dairy, a hot loaf of Italian bread right out of the oven, pasta, etc. I eat healthy, and my grocery cart mirrors my eating habits. The pot-bellied, skinny shanked guy in front of me at the checkout was a different breed of cat; his cart was loaded with Pop Tarts, 12 packs of soda, boxes of microwaveable meals, cheap white bread, candy, chips and donuts and plenty of alcoholic beverages. Let's refer to him as "The Pop Tart Guy." The food police would have screamed bloody murder at his selections. As it was I winced, but remembered that this was his choice and that if he chose to purchase every unhealthy item in the market, so be it. That is what the First Amendment is all about.

I placed my selection on the counter after his and noticed with some pleasure that the Pop Tart Guy's cart, which was about as full as mine, cost him over $100, not including the carton of Marlboros he picked up on his way out the door. Mine was a few bucks over $50, and I gloated in self-satisfaction that not only was I treating my body better, but I was saving beaucoup bucks as I did it. Maybe he'd change his errant ways and see the light I mused, but that would be his decision, not mine.

Feeling really good about myself, I loaded my groceries in my jalopy and chugged the few minutes back to my basement apartment, jammed the food in the fridge and created a breakfast of steamed new potatoes, fresh spinach and eggs and a wedge of Italian bread and washed it down with hot black coffee. I waited a few minutes and took 1,000 mg of chewable vitamin C and sat back to let my food settle before hitting the gym. Now before you go running to the "comments" section of my web site to lambast me for healthy living braggadocio, let me cut you off at the pass and say this little treatise is not a condemnation of the Pop Tart Guy, but rather a salute to this great country and the blessings it  provides to those of us fortunate enough to call it home.

Example: I entered the supermarket and had before me a fabulous selection of goods from around the world, all available at reasonable prices and with no preset conditions for shopping. The corporate entity that owns this particular chain does their best on a daily basis to ensure that I am, and will remain, their loyal customer and won't switch allegiance to the other chain just down the street. Competition forces them to remain on their toes and provide their clientele with fresh goods at the best prices, or else they would soon go out of business. No one checks IDs at the door. Those of us from the most humble of circumstances are as welcome in the market as the uber-wealthy and privileged. No one asks for race, gender or creed as a requirement to shop. They are open during hours convenient to us, not them. You may pick and choose what you want to fill your cart with and what or why you purchase it is your owned damned business, not some snot-nosed busybody with nothing better to occupy his time than his desire to control your personal choices.

To create my aforementioned breakfast I turned on my electric stove and heated up my fry pan, sautéed the 'taters, spinach and eggs and sat in front of the TV and watched the morning news. These few humble amenities are available to me at a reasonable cost and barring "acts of God" are reliably available. My water runs hot and cold and clean. When I use the bathroom, I can take a hot and cold shower as is my wish. When I flush my toilet, the waste is carried away and taken care of. I can blog on this computer, watch TV, listen to the radio or read a book, as is my choice. No one tells me what to write, what to watch on TV, what radio program requires my attention or what book to settle in with. Those decisions are all mine, and I thank this great country for the privilege and honor to do so.

Do we have our problems in America? You bet we do. Do we argue and whine and complain and threaten and bitch and moan and wring our hands about the fate and decline of our nation? Yes, but it is in the American character to do so. We are always on the brink. According to us, anyway. We are always losing an arms race or an economic race or a space race or an Olympics race. According to us, anyway. We are always being threatened by immigrants, by commie labor organizers, by fascist corporate entities, by Big Brother public schools and by indifferent courts. According to us, anyway. We are the victims of our own arrogance and indifference, and are responsible for wars and climactic Armageddon, starving millions and oppressing nations. According to us, anyway.

All this may be true, but in rebuttal may I humbly ask you to think of something as simple and egalitarian as your neighborhood supermarket, and me vs. the Pop Tart Guy. Were my choices better than his? According to me, and probably most of you, they were. But the real heart of the matter is not my fresh fruits and veggies vs. his Pop Tarts, but that the choices were there in the first place.

No nation has ever done better than we in providing this most glorious of conundrums: do I get the fresh spinach or the Pop Tarts?

Yes, it's as stupidly simple as that.

Lenny Palmer, July 3, 2011


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